Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, barreled toward the southeastern United States on Thursday after killing at least 69 people, mostly in Haiti, on its deadly northward march.
As Matthew blew through the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday, it was predicted to strengthen from a Category 3 to 4 storm en route to Florida’s Atlantic coast, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The storm could either take direct aim at Florida or brush along the state’s coast on Thursday night.
Some 65 people were killed in Haiti and thousands were displaced after the storm smashed homes and inundated neighborhoods earlier in the week.
The National Hurricane Center extended its hurricane warning area farther north into Georgia and more than 12 million U.S. residents were under hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.
Roads in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were jammed and gas stations and food stores ran out of supplies as the storm approached, carrying with it strong storm surges, heavy rain and sustained winds that accelerated overnight to about 125 miles per hour (205 kph).
Matthew was 215 miles (346 km) southeast of West Palm Beach at about 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT).
The damage could be “catastrophic” if the hurricane slammed directly into Florida, Governor Rick Scott warned, urging some 1.5 million people in the state to heed evacuation orders.
“If you’re reluctant to evacuate, just think about all the people who have been killed,” Scott told a news conference on Thursday. “Time is running out. This is clearly either going to have a direct hit or come right along the coast and we’re going to have hurricane-force winds.”
A storm surge of up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) was expected.
The projected path of the storm, according to the National Hurricane Center:
- Thursday morning and afternoon: The worst conditions will occur in Nassau and New Providence in the Bahamas. Tropical storm conditions are first expected in Florida.
- Thursday evening and Friday morning: A turn toward the north-northwest is expected as Matthew approaches Florida.
- Friday afternoon and evening: Matthew will roll near the east coast of the Florida peninsula, with central coastal Florida experiencing hurricane conditions throughout the day.
- Saturday morning: Depending on the position, coastal South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia, could have strong wind and rain.
- Saturday afternoon and evening: Matthew could move eastward, with Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, feeling lesser impacts.